Meet the man who defeated Madison Cawthorn

·4 min read
Chuck Edwards and Madison Cawthorn.
Chuck Edwards and Madison Cawthorn. Illustrated | Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons, iStock

Three-term North Carolina state Sen. Chuck Edwards took down controversial freshman U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn in Tuesday's Republican primary. Here's everything you need to know:

Who ran against Cawthorn?

In November 2021, Cawthorn announced that he planned to switch districts in order to prevent "another establishment go-along to get-along Republican" from winning in what would have been North Carolina's new 13th Congressional District. A few weeks later, he met with former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, where Cawthorn encouraged Trump to endorse local GOP official Michele Woodhouse for the seat he'd be vacating. Cawthorn presented Trump with a map labeled "Congressman Cawthorn's plan for North Carolina." At the age of 26 with less than one term under his belt, Cawthorn was already attempting to position himself as a kingmaker in state politics.

The 13th proved unlucky for Cawthorn when the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down the proposed congressional map in February. This forced Cawthorn back into his old district, where he faced seven challengers who'd jumped into what they thought was an open primary.

Edwards, the only other candidate to have held political office, quickly emerged as the frontrunner. "I'm not a politician. I'm a businessman turned public servant," he said at a primary debate that Cawthorn skipped. "The problems in D.C. are too severe to treat as a training camp."

In addition to Edwards and Woodhouse, Cawthorn also faced inn owner Bruce O'Connell, military veteran Rod Honeycutt, Social Security administrative claims representative Wendy Nevarez, Ashville Regional Airport Authority Chair Matthew Burril, and social worker Kristie Sluder.

Who is Chuck Edwards?

Charles Marion Edwards, 61, was born, raised, and educated in western North Carolina. He now owns several McDonald's franchises — including the one he worked at when he was 16 years old — that employ more than 300 people.

In August 2016, he was appointed to the North Carolina Senate after state Sen. Tom Apodaca resigned. Edwards was elected to a full term three months later and went on to win reelection in 2018 and 2020. As a state senator, Edwards' bio notes, "he serves [on] 17 committees, chairs five of them, and serves [on] two commissions." His bio also touts his work as a board member for several community nonprofits.

"As a parent and grandparent, he instills the same values of Christianity, hard work, honesty, and integrity that his parents taught him. Those are the values that made him successful as a father, husband, business owner, and community leader," Edwards' campaign website reads.

His policy proposals include building a wall on America's southern border, passing a federal balanced budget amendment, and increasing domestic oil and natural gas production to achieve energy independence.

How did Edwards win?

Cawthorn's non-stop stream of scandals — including accusing his Capitol Hill colleagues of attending orgies and using cocaine, repeatedly running afoul of the law, and rubbing his naked genitals on his cousin's head in a leaked video — ultimately made him a liability in the eyes of the GOP establishment.

Soon, Cawthorn was hemorrhaging support. Edwards, a well-established figure in local and statewide politics, was the natural choice to replace him. Nineteen of North Carolina's 28 Republican state senators — including the majority whip and president pro tempore — endorsed Edwards. So did the Republican state House speaker. So did U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Tillis told CNN that he was "opposing a sitting Republican" for "the first time in my career" due to Cawthorn's "lack of seriousness."

The day before the primary, Trump posted on Truth Social urging voters to give Cawthorn "a second chance." The young firebrand "did a great job" early in his term but then "made some foolish mistakes, which I don't believe he'll make again," Trump wrote. It was too little too late.

As it became clear Tuesday night that he wouldn't be able to close the gap, Cawthorn called Edwards to concede. "Congressman Cawthorn was very polite, very congenial, offered his support in absolutely any way to help me defeat [Democratic Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara]. I was really honored in how respectable and how honorable he handled himself," Edwards told reporters.

According to The New York Times, Edwards received 29,411 votes (33.4 percent) to Cawthorn's 28,092 (31.9 percent). Matthew Burril finished a distant third with 8,314 votes (9.4 percent). Because Edwards  won with more than 30 percent of the vote, he does not need to face Cawthorn in a runoff.

What's next for Edwards?

FiveThirtyEight.com ranks North Carolina's 11th Congressional District as R+14, meaning Edwards will likely have no trouble defeating Beach-Ferrara in November.  

Edwards told reporters at his victory party Tuesday night that his priorities are "removing the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi's hand, and then taking the teleprompter from Joe Biden and restoring the policies that we enjoyed under the Trump administration, to help get this country back on track."

His new colleagues in Washington will probably be happy to see him. Ahead of Tuesday's primary, CNN reported that Republicans lawmakers were already planning to sideline Cawthorn if he won reelection. Proposals ranged from "relegating him to less favorable committees" to voting Cawthorn out of the House Republican Conference. Now, those lawmakers can breathe a sigh of relief.

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